That (really big) band camp's back in Camden

The Summer Set is one of the scores of bands slated to perform (at some to-be-designated time) at the Susquehanna Bank Center.
The Summer Set is one of the scores of bands slated to perform (at some to-be-designated time) at the Susquehanna Bank Center.
Posted: July 11, 2014

WHAT KEEPS bands craving and competing to be part of the Vans Warped Tour - the caravan of contemporary music celebrating its 20th annual tour-stop today at the Susquehanna Bank Center, in Camden?

Nearly 100 bands (!) will be playing on 10 different stages, for a crowd of "somewhere between 10- and 15,000," guesstimated Jess Bowen, drummer for the Summer Set, a Warped third timer. With ticket prices kept low ($45 at the gate), "nobody's getting rich on this tour," she added, with a laugh.

Just getting showgoers motivated to find your band and hang out for your set can be an interesting challenge, given the level of competition and manifest distractions, shared five-time Vans participant Derek Sanders, front man for Mayday Parade.

"We give out small fans imprinted with our name, and have people write the time and stage for our set on them, so they won't forget about us. Other groups walk around with big signs advertising themselves, their time and location."

Yet to hear these two tell it, the Warped Tour is the best thing going for up-and-comers in the summertime.

"Vans is the closest thing we'll ever experience to joining the circus," enthused Sanders. "It's kind of wild, all the people you meet, all the music you get to hear. And all the traveling around you do. It's quite a sight when all the buses and vans - maybe as many as 100 - pull out in procession."

In formative years, Warped was consistently punked out, also preaching to the (hard) core with high-flying demonstrations from champion-level skateboarders - all wearing Vans-branded kicks, of course.

Yet, through its evolution, everyone from Eminem to Katy Perry has played the fest as new kids on the block, noted Bowen.

And today, "the line-up's all over the place," said Sanders - from "interesting indie alternative discoveries like Echosmith to hip-hop" (K. Flay, Crizzly), "ska and punk bands" (Less Than Jake, Bayside), "with electronic pop, like Shiragirl, Breathe Carolina and DJ Nicola Bear to hard core" (Attilla, Everytime I Die, Terror, to name-drop just a few.)

And let us not forget the sunnier, poppier rock that both Mayday Parade and the Summer Set put forth. (Think sounds kindred to fun., Queen and My Chemical Romance.)

"One tent - Beatport - is primarily electronic /DJ stuff," said Sanders. "The Monster Energy Stage is where many of the hardcore bands hang."

"But on other stages, the guy who puts the show together, Kevin Lyman, likes to really mix it up," noted Bowen. "There's plenty of crossover, a lot of discovery of bands you might not gravitate to ordinarily. That's a big appeal for groups like ours to do the tour."

First time that Sanders, ahem, "worked" Warped in 2006, Mayday Parade wasn't even on the official show lineup. Like a gypsy caravan bringing up the rear, "we followed the tour from town to town, and would walk around outside the venue where people were lined up waiting to get in, with portable CD players and headphones and backpacks full of CDs, inviting people to check out our music."

Guards tried to chase them away, "but Kevin Lyman came along, thought what we were doing was cool, and allowed us to carry on, even though we were selling merchandise in competition with all the stuff available at the show. Then the next year, he invited us to join the show."

Match that "joins the circus" saga, Tobey Tyler! You, too, Putt-Putt!

For Jess Bowen, headed out on Warped Tour is "a lot like going to summer camp." It even runs the same length - about seven weeks. "Just like camp, some people - but not us - get homesick," she said. And the more years you return, the higher status you achieve - "getting moved up to the bigger stages."

Instead of cabins, bands bunk on buses, "fanned out in a circle on the parking lots, with common facilities in the middle. That's where we gather for lunch and barbecues with drinks after the show. There's a lot of friendships formed, a lot of hanging out together at the picnic tables, just like at camp or high school. It's amusing to watch how the cliques form, but with no bad-mouthing allowed!"

Also like camp, the bunks - er, bands - never know what they'll be doing "until you wake up and read the day's schedule, which gets posted at 10 in the morning," Bowen said. "That keeps things interesting. You could be going on as early as 11:30 a.m. - or as late as 8:30 at night."

Players also have other activities to do, periods to fill each day. Bowen said, "We do signing sessions each day in our tent" - the Summer Set's own or the one it shares with Mayday Parade and the other nine bands from the Fearless Records roster also participating in this year's Warped.

That's the highest participation from any label and a "testimony" to the high regard in which Lyman holds Fearless' chief taste-maker, Bob Becker, said Sanders.

Bowen also shifts regularly into camp-counselor mode - teaching a drum clinic in the Band Happy tent. Group mates Josh Montgomery and John Gomez also do the same, though probably not with the same sense of mission she has.

"Almost all the people who come to my clinic are girls," Bowen beamed with delight. "For most of them, it's the first time they've ever held drum sticks - and they get to take them home [as part of the $30 fee] and practice on their kitchen utensils."

As an Arizona youth, Bowen had to be talked into playing the drums "by my dad and brother, who both play drums. There aren't many female drummers, or other female musicians of any sort on this tour, to be honest, though the majority of people in the offices, running the tour, are women. Now I'm encouraging other girls to jump in. The clinic's a good stepping stone to getting their foot in the door - 'Hey, I had my first lesson with Jess.' "

Nothing warped about that.


Susquehanna Bank Center, 1 Harbour Blvd, Camden, doors at 11 a.m. today, $45, 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com.


Blog: philly.com/GizmoGuy

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